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The difference between web design and UX design explained
When it comes to building effective products, websites, or apps, web design and UX design should work together as complementary elements of the same strategy—but there are clear differences between how each field approaches design.
In this chapter of our Web Design guide, we dive into the differences between web design vs UX design and point out the subtle nuances between the two. With a clear understanding of how each role fits within an organization—and contributes to its goals—you’ll see more clearly which duties belong to the UX design team and which ones are better suited for the web design team.
What is web design?
Web design is the process of planning, creating, and presenting the front-end design of a website. It may encompass several aspects, including web page layout, content production, and graphic design.
Within an organization, the purpose of web design is to generate the aesthetically pleasing structure and content of the website that will be introduced to the user.
What are the responsibilities of a web designer?
A web designer—a professional who generates content for a website—is responsible for designing the layout of the website using various creative, technical, and process-related systems.
Often, web designers will work on front-end development, while a web developer focuses on the back-end. They deal with the process of creating static designs like landing pages, created specifically to be rendered and viewed in a web browser.
Web design is more than just graphic design. These professionals have to consider functionality, technical constraints, digital trends, and user expectations—all of which change frequently—to address and resolve web design challenges.
Web design typically involves several visual components, including:
Search engine optimization (SEO)
On a day-to-day basis, a web designer’s specific responsibilities depend on what their client, employer, or project requires. Their activities might involve collaborating with departments like:
Product teams, to design the front-end of a website by creating visual brand elements and graphics, and build templates to streamline their work
Marketing and customer support teams, to create written content for specific website pages and sections
As far as deliverables go, web designers are responsible for projects like:
Low- and high-fidelity mockups
What is UX design?
User experience (UX) design is the process of building products that are useful, easy, and enjoyable for people to use. UX considers every interaction a user has with a product or service, and optimizes it.
If web design is the broad umbrella category, then UX and user interface (UI) design are specialties of it.
Within an organization, the purpose of UX design is to consider how a product, app, or website experience makes the user feel, how an interface looks, and how easy it is for the user to accomplish their goals.
What are the responsibilities of a UX designer?
A UX designer’s job begins and ends with the user. They're responsible for examining user behavior as they interact with the site, service, or app, and optimizing the design of a website to encourage certain behaviors and create an atmosphere more conducive to them.
UX involves iteration, in which user feedback is applied to incremental changes and improvements over time. It's a process of coming up with ideas and testing hypotheses based on real users' input.
A UX designer considers how the experience makes the user feel, and how easy it is to achieve the desired result. To do so, they employ UX methods like user research, information architecture, interaction design, usability testing, and content strategy.
Along with the aesthetics of the product, service, or website, UX designers focus on utility and functionality. They might be responsible for:
Determining the information architecture of a digital product
Strategy development based on user research and user testing
Finalizing the right interaction model
Creating personas through user surveys
Testing prototypes and user experiences
Collaborating with UI designers to create attractive and useful designs
UX design focuses on the end user—to understand their habits, needs, behaviors, motivations, and emotions. It’s a social, analytical, and storytelling skill set that often involves working on tasks like:
Performing user research and optimizing user experience
Conducting market research to establish goals for the website and its pages
Understanding user psychology
Comprehending product specification
Creating user personas
Designing wireframes and user flows
The goal is to figure out the best way for the user to interact with the product, complete tasks, and reach their intended outcome in the easiest and most pleasant way possible to create customer delight. UX designers must also work within teams to meet the needs of the stakeholders involved. This can involve cross-functional collaboration with:
Product teams, to continuously refine the product experience so it becomes easier for users as the product develops
Development teams, to implement validated changes and optimizations that improve the user experience
Marketing, support, design, and other teams, to share user data and feedback across teams, collaborate on any big UX design changes, and keep other teams in the loop
While they may be asked to bend to required business or marketing needs, UX designers are always mindful to not break the central connection to their users and user needs, delivering on projects like:
User interviews and surveys
User journey maps
Wireframes and prototypes
Pro tip: practice real UX design by getting feedback from actual users.
To prototype and iterate on design solutions, you have to deeply understand the problem and who you’re designing for.
Talk to your users, get them to tell you about their problems and experiences, and use their direct feedback to figure out the best ways to interpret and use that information to come up with possible optimizations.
Use the Hotjar Feedback widget to collect insights from users at scale and in context. Users can:
Rate their level of satisfaction
Describe their experience using certain web pages and their elements (i.e. product images and descriptions, buttons, headlines, checkout page)
Screenshot a specific page element
Provide context and details
A Hotjar Feedback widget in the wild
What do web design and UX design have in common?
A product, service, or website’s design not only includes how things look, but also how they work. Aside from the basic elements of branding and web designthat make it visually appealing and compelling, a product should always be user-friendly.
Here are some aspects of web design that can also be found in UX design, to illustrate why both the look and functionality of a product play important roles in its success.
An affinity for problem solving
Both web design and UX design use problem solving as a mechanism for achieving specific goals.
Web designers look to solve problems for their customers, employer, or even clients. After they identify the issue, they designa web solution and work with other teams to develop and test the site before releasing it. Then, they collect user feedback and continue to reiterate the design after the site is launched.
UX designers look to solve problems for their users. It’s a similar iterative problem-solving process that begins with user research—getting to know potential users, what their problems are, and how to solve them. Then, UX designers often use an approach like design thinking to create a solution that addresses the users' key needs, and bring the prototype back to users to test its validity or usability.
Considering the user journey
Both web and UX designers are tasked with considering the user journey when creating and building the product design.
Depending on the project, client, or employer, each of these roles mightbe responsible for different aspects of the user flow. While web design deals with how the website will look, UX design considers what the user experience will be like with specific elements.
Pro tip: use surveys to understand the user journey, without disrupting it.
On-site surveys typically pop up or slide in from the edge of the page with 1–3 quick open-ended questions. You can trigger on-site surveys to appear only on some pages or after a certain action, which makes them perfect for gathering feedback on specific elements of your product.
Off-site surveys can be placed on a standalone page and are targeted to user segments to learn about their experience in detail. Use off-site surveys to ask a long series of open-ended questions covering the whole user experience, to understand the user’s perspective in their own words.
Examples of open-ended survey questions
Creativity based on emotional design
Emotional design—the concept of creating designs that evoke emotions that result in positive user experiences—is a critical part of both web and UX design.
Web designers create designs that elicit emotions from users with visual design elements such as fonts, imagery, and typography. Considering that much of decision-making comes from emotion and gut instinct, it makes sense that the design of a website can encourage behaviors that lead to better conversions and a higher retention rate.
UX designers are also concerned with evoking emotions from users throughout their entire experience of using a product. They also draw a lot on graphic design principles—like creating a predictable visual flow across the screen and placing CTAs in the right spots—while also factoring in additional concerns like interactivity and timing.
What are the differences between web design and UX design?
Web design and UX design are not interchangeable, and there are marked differences between the two. These three principles of web design vs UX design show how each field addresses core issues.
In web design, the main focus is creating great websites for the internet. A web designer leans on technology—the latest versions of coding languages and web browsers—to keep up with the specs required for modern dynamic and responsive designs, as well as the latest browser requirements.
UX design, on the other hand, stays focused on the users. UX designers focus on research to gather insights and perform optimizations that cater to specific user needs. Technology is still involved, but mostly as a means for users to get what they need. Their ultimate goal is to meet users’ requirements, rather than web browser ones.
The domain of web design is strictly tied to web browsers used on desktops and mobile devices.
On the other hand, UX design is platform independent and can be applied to almost anything that relies on human interaction—mobile apps, video games, desktop software, and even retail spaces.
Web design tends not to adopt the human-focused strategy of UX design. Instead, a web designer might emphasize more of the aesthetics of the site—rather than how a user might deal with it.
This is most obvious when addressing common issues, like slow loading times. If a page takes too long to load, a web designer might compress files and adjust page content to trim excess and save bandwidth. A UX designer’s focus will be on the likelihood that a user will bounce, and how to improve interactivity and address the loading time on the most important pages, before addressing the problem site-wide.
UX design is defined by coordinating continuous improvements by interacting with users, learning from their experiences, and applying insights to build a better product. The web design process doesn’t dive as deep and will, in general, be less iterative.
How do web design and UX design work together?
Say a company is looking to design a product, but they’re not sure who their target market is—or how to reach them. Before software or web design begins, UX designers and researchers will generate user personas and develop a strategy to create an experience that helps users achieve their goals within the product.
As the design comes to life, interactive prototypes or simple static wireframes are created. Then, usability testing can occur by navigating through the prototype and deciding where to make assessments and adjustments to functionality.
Now, a web designer can take all the information available about the product and brand—like the look, feel, and features—and create a site that displays it in a concise way that introduces the product’s benefits.
This may involve gathering screenshots, creating graphics and illustrations, generating content and copy for the site, and incorporating other visual assets. Their task also involves being mindful of how the website will look and behave on different device sizes and browsers, as part of a responsive, adaptive design.
After the design is completed and before launch, it’s time for further testing and web development decisions that involve how the website will be coded, where the graphic assets and web files will live, and how they'll be delivered.
Next steps in nailing your design
How you incorporate web design vs UX design in your organization depends on your company’s unique needs, goals, and challenges.
Each field addresses different problems, but they can (and should) work together to create a better product for your users.